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Farm Fresh Blog
Thursday, July 31 2014
The sight of it caused me to slam on brakes and run bang on a total stranger's door. Because I was on my way to work, I was in a police uniform, so I gave a silent prayer that this house was not a closet cocaine or meth dealer as I knocked loudly again. Out here in the country it would probably be meth, but then again, those cows are really nice, so it could be cocaine. (That's the kind of crap that goes through a cop's mind as they're banging on the door of a stranger.)
Nevertheless, he needed help, he just didn't know it. Actually, a little fellow in his pasture needed help. I had just rounded a curve in the roadway when I had seen the drama unfolding - a newborn calf, an upset momma cow, and a nasty-ass donkey keeping the momma away from the baby.
The donkey had separated the baby from the mother and was moving the confused little guy away. His umbilical cord was still hanging. The momma was just this side of hysterical but every time she tried to help her baby, that nasty donkey turned on her with teeth and she backed off. Yes, this is the kind of stuff that makes me dash into the ditch and bail out of the car.
I started running to the pasture and the donkey decided he really didn't want any part of the "po-lice" and so he backed away from the calf a bit, giving the momma cow the room she needed to go recover her calf. The calf seemed shaken but okay. I still wanted the rancher to know that his donkey was trouble so I banged on the door to tattle on the nasty donkey. Fortunately the man who came to the door looked more like a rancher than a cocaine dealer. Trust me, I know these things. Suffice it to say, he did not shoot through the door at a uniformed police officer on his doorstep. I explained what I saw, and he assured me that he'd move the donkey out of that pasture immediately.
"So there. Take THAT, Donkey!"
This donkey convinced me I didn't ever want to have one with my baby calves. Other Half had been talking about getting one because of the predator load at the ranch. Most of our cows are former show cattle that never had to deal with coyotes taking their babies and he's been worried about calves at the ranch. I put my money on Snickers.
After all, who needs a donkey when you have a Snickers?
This is the meanest cow south of Oklahoma.
As you might recall last year she won "Mother Of The Year" because of her steadfast protection of not just her own calf, but ALL calves in the herd. To put it bluntly, Snickers is one psycho bitch when she's protecting calves. She mutates into a Cape Buffalo - the most dangerous bovine on the planet. Snickers will mow down a Border Collie in an instant. She will fling herself into fences, bellowing at the top of her lungs. It makes an impression, I tell you.
Despite the fact that these cattle belong to Other Half, I am the person who knows them. I remember their show names. I remember the child we bought them from at the county fair. I know their personalities. I remember the calves they've had over the years. The calves may or may not get names, but the show cows get names. If a personality emerges, so too does a name. It's how I distinguish them. Last week we were recording births and matching calves to mothers in the pasture when Other Half asked me "What's her number?"
"Her tag number? What's her ear tag number?"
"How the heck do I know? I never notice their numbers! They have NAMES!"
Dancing Cow - everyone knows the bald-face Secretariat who is first to come running to feed
I continued to point out cow names, but he gave up and walked out there to get their ear tag numbers. In his Cow Book he wants numbers and birth dates, not names and events. Go figure. It must be a guy thing. I want the story behind every cow. A number doesn't give me that. I don't remember numbers. I remember names and stories. I keep a geneology of these girls in my head. (and on a calendar)
And that's why I knew we didn't need a donkey. We have Snickers. She's more reliable than any donkey. We'll never have to worry about Snickers killing a brand new calf. Other mothers may not pay close attention, but rest assured, Snickers knows where each and every calf is lying. In fact, the first calf born on the new ranch was born to Daisy Mae, but Snickers was so protective, we had to check her udder to make sure the calf was not hers. And speaking of her udder, that's a sore subject.
Snickers only has half an udder because of mastitis. I first noticed this after her second calf was weaned and pointed out to Other Half that we need to pen her up and treat it. He kept insisting that she would be fine, there was nothing wrong with her udder; she was just drying up. He proclaimed this with the air of "I'm the cow man, I know what I'm talking about!"
Whatever. I raise sheep and goats, and you'd better treat that udder because it's mastitis.
I was right. He was wrong. The cow lost half an udder.
Some folks would sell her, but even with half an udder, she raises nice calves. And even when she reaches the point where she can't raise calves, she still has earned her spot in the herd because she's a darned good guard donkey too. Trust me, you don't want to be on the business end of this cow when a calf hollers.
Wednesday, July 30 2014
It occurred to me last week that living on a rural (read:wild) ranch requires a certain 'skill set' from dogs as well as people.
Those of you who follow us on Facebook at Failte Gate Farm have already seen this snake on Trace's pictorial tour of the ranch last week.
Dear Reader Kathy asked if Trace had killed that snake. When I read this, I snorted frappuccino up my nose with laughter. Mercy me! No, Trace is unlikely to kill any snake, poisonous or not. Those tiny holes in the snake are not fang marks. They are #9 shotgun pellets.
And while Trace is unlikely to kill a snake, he is just as unlikely to be bitten by a snake because Trace clearly understands the Prime Directive of Ranch Living: "Stay Away From Copperheads & Rattlesnakes!"
I found this snake on my multiple trips between the ranch house and the cabin one morning. It's a short walking trip, a stone's throw. Because of the snakes, I normally carry a gun on my person, but on that particular trip, I found myself slapping my empty back pockets in search of a gun, while Blue Heeler and I gaped at a rapidly moving copperhead.
I'll spare you the drama filled with screams (me), and cussing (me), confusion (Blue Heeler, as I stuffed him quickly in a kennel), and more screams and confusion (Other Half) as I shouted orders to get him off the toilet to come help me find and kill this snake. Suffice it to say, life around our place is a bit like Keystone Cops.
Before anyone lectures me on snakes, rodents, and the food chain, I will add that, yes, I understand and agree with these things, but when you find three copperheads within 100 yards of each other within 3 minutes, and when you have dogs and grandchildren wandering around, we'll discuss it. Until then, if it's non-poisonous, I let it go. If it's a pit viper, I shoot at that sucker like Yosemite Sam.
We solved the immediate snake problem and removed his still very dangerous, dying body by flinging it over the fenceline. Then one of us had the brilliant idea to do a spot test on whether or not the dogs remembered the 'snake-proofing' clinic they had attended after Dillon had been nailed (right between the eyes) by a rattlesnake. So one by one we brought the dogs out to the kill site to read their body language.
Lily the Border Collie: mild interest and curiosity - FAIL
Ranger the Blue Heeker: mild interest and curiosity - FAIL
Dillon the Labrador: barrel right into the scene with great interest - BIG TIME FAIL
Trace: His reaction can be summed up like this-
"SNAKE! SNAKE! There's a f*#@ing SNAKE out here! Everybody Run! RUN!
"I don't like snakes, so sue me."
Trace passed with flying colors and will not have to go to another clinic this year. And yes, Friends and Neighbors, as much as it pained me to put a shock collar on him, his reaction to smelling a pit viper was worth it. If Trace can smell a snake before it sees him, Trace will not be bitten.
Dillon, on the other hand . . .
There's a reason why the Snake Man said Labradors normally need yearly 'tune-ups.'
So Trace definitely scored higher in his Ranch Intelligence Test #1 than anyone else.
Dillon did do well on Ranch Intelligence Test #2 - Walking across cattle guards
Most of the time we drive over cattle guards, but if I take a walk down the road, I must cross two cattle guards on foot. Any dog wishing to participate in these walks must also be able to navigate these barriers.
He may as well have been a Seeing Eye Dog as he navigated this obstacle which required him to walk the rungs like a ladder. (I really wish I'd had this dog when I was doing Search & Rescue work.)
The Border Collies have not taken this test yet. Neither has the Blue Heeler. My expectations for Ranger are pretty low. He's certain the world is out to get him. Removing the ground from under his feet is not likely to go over well with him. We'll see how it goes.
"Hey! Don't be hatin' on the blue dawg!"
Friday, July 25 2014
Friends and Neighbors, over my lifetime, I've seen a lot of stuff. I play Twister over dead men for a living, and frankly it's just plain hard to impress me anymore, but last night did it. In the middle of a 10 hour drive back home from the ranch in North Texas, we received a text from the neighbor who'd been farmsitting for us down south.
Other Half's Border Collie, Cowboy, was missing. Since storms had moved through the area earlier, we assured the neighbor that the dog was merely hiding under the house, scared of the thunder. Thus we weren't concerned until we arrived home to blue skies, a setting sun, and no dog. That was a Very Bad Thing.
I called the dog and there was a distant answering bark from under the house. I called again. He barked. I searched inside the house. Perhaps he had broken a window during a storm and was now inside the house. Nope. Husband and I got down on our bellies with flashlights to check under the house. Didn't see him there. But then, he barked again. Ut oh! Clearly the dog was stuck under the bowels of the house. Slowly the horror began to sink in: The dog was stuck under a pier-and-beam house that only had about 8 inches of crawl space.
Where was he? How do we get him out? Had he managed to tear under the floorboards? Was his collar hung on something?
Clearly if we didn't get him out, he would die. Stuck. Under. The. House.
And I'm claustrophobic. I burst into tears. I burst into prayer. This was definitely beyond our scope. It didn't take long for me to make the leap into a hysterical, shaking, blubbering mess. It wasn't even my dog, but the thought of him dying under the house simply because we couldn't retrieve him sent me into a tailspin. (There's a reason why I don't watch "Trapped-In-Space/Trapped-Under-Water" movies. Imagining that shit is not fun!)
We couldn't figure out how to get him out, and yet, we couldn't leave him there. We couldn't even isolate his location. His barks were sporadic, and Husband kept reminding me that sound echoes under there which could fool us. And it did. Finally, desperate, we sent Dillon the Labrador under the house in search of rats. Dillon and Cowboy hate each other with a purple passion, but the 'plan' was to illuminate Dillon and watch his body language. When he got close to Cowboy, it would most certainly show in his posture. That was the plan.
In reality, Dillon didn't get far enough under the house to find Cowboy, but he did cause Cowboy to erupt in a frenzy of strong barking. All right! We had a location. Under the kitchen! This presented a problem because we could clearly see with flashlights under the kitchen. No dog. He somehow must have crawled into the wall. Okayokayokayokayokay. . . . just breathe...
Now how do we get him out? My solution - go into the kitchen and start ripping the floor out.
Husband's solution - Other Half decided to put on a Tyvek suit and G.I. Joe like a Tunnel Rat in Vietnam to get his dog.
Do what?! DO WHAT?!! Yep. He zipped that suit up, slipped on some rubber gloves, got down on his belly, and slid under that house.
Alrightie then. Color me impressed. Every day I work with police officers and firemen - men and women who run toward danger when people with common sense are running the other way. I'm one of them. I've actively hunted drug dealers, rapists, and murderers. Now, as a CSI, I play Twister over dead men for a living, and frankly it's just hard to impress me, but that did it. Husband is a cop too, so normal cop stuff he does isn't impressive, it's just expected. Truthfully, if something goes bump in the night around here, both of us get up to check it out. No one gets a free pass to stay in bed and wait for the other one to patrol around the house with a baseball bat (read: gun).
But crawling under that house impressed me. Aside from the fact that the crawl space was ONLY 8 INCHES, because of the rain, there was standing water under the house. Factor in rats, snakes, spiders, and whatever the hell else lives under a house, and you get the picture. Folks, it takes real balls to crawl under that house in search of a dog.
But he did. Never underestimate a man's love for his dog. He crawled under that house - and he promptly got stuck.
And the only two flashlights we had were running out of juice quickly.
I had reached my tipping point. Hysterical, I called a friend, because that's what police officers do. They don't immediately call the fire department. They call each other. They call their friends. Then.... only when police officers are helplessly stuck, then and only then, will we call the fire department for help. It's a sibling rivalry thing.
So I called a friend. I called a former cop who does search and rescue work. He and I used to work on a SAR Team together. He is your go-to person when life bitch-slaps you or you make questionable decisions, and you need the cavalry to come with flashlights, saws, jacks, and moral support. By the time he picked up the phone, I was crying so hard that he couldn't even understand me. This was a new experience for him. Bill has never seen me hysterical. It doesn't happen often, folks. But there it was. I was a puddle. I needed advice. I needed help. I needed somebody to stand in the dark with me.
It took a few minutes to relay the situation, but without hesitation, he offered help and assured me that he would gather his toys and head my way. Neither he nor I had any idea what we were going to do, but it made me feel better just to know that he was coming. God bless him! Folks, there are friends, and then there are the kind of friends you can call at any hour and they will come because that's the kind of fabric they're made from. And if you have people like that in your life, hang on to 'em. They're precious.
So there I was, standing in the dark, wiping tears, waiting on Bill, when I heard happy barking from under the house. Robby had managed to find Cowboy and free him! I called the dog. I could see him. He was dancing around the husband, wagging his tail and licking him. But he wasn't under the kitchen, he was deep under the bowels of the house. I called him again. Nope. He wouldn't leave Robby - who was stuck again. Lovely.
This was shaping up to be a fire department call after all. This is how folks end up on the 5 o'clock news. This is how folks end up on the yahoo news feed. Figures. There was a week's worth of grass that needed mowing in the yard, and the house was dirty. Whatever. Firemen see worse. And hey! The dog was finally free!
And given some time, and slick mud, the husband managed to inch-worm himself free too.
I called Dear Friend Bill to tell him the good news, and to tell him that he could stop loading up gear. It was time to praise God. Time for thanks. My prayers had been answered. It was time to give the husband a wet rag and a cold beer. And it was time to hug a muddy dog, and a muddy man.
A boy & his dog
Wednesday, July 09 2014
Each morning after the main chores are done, I try to take Lily for a walk in the pastures. We check the water troughs. Play fetch. Count sheep. Count cows. Make sure the neighbor's horse is still alive. Walk the goats. The only part of this checklist that Lily is really concerned about is: play fetch.
She plays fetch while the baby bucks (read: one baby buck and two wethers) follow along. This can be a major downer to Lily who lives in an "it's all about me world" and she absolutely loathes when goats interfere with her game. Today I took the camera along and snapped a few shots of Her Majesty.
She played it up like a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model until I knelt down to get a shot and the baby goats stampeded up behind me. In a flash she went from Sports Illustrated to Clint Eastwood. Check out this classic Eastwood squint:
"Do you feel lucky? Well, do you?"
Ahhh.... such is the true nature of a female Border Collie.